Mindfulness: A Critical Tool for Social Impact

“Those of us who are called to advance a more just society ….also have a responsibility to create change while embodying the same principles of integrity and justice we hope to see in the world.  This requires a level of mindfulness” – Gretchen Ki Steidle, Founder & President:  Global Grassroots and Author, A Toolkit for Conscious Social Change

Changing the world is tough.

All too often social impact leaders work toward multiple bottom lines, navigate competing priorities, manage multiple stakeholders, face constant resource constraints, and live every minute inundated with information — all while staring down the  world’s greatest challenges.

To achieve their bold visions, transformational leaders need access to a diverse set of tools and habits to help regularly cultivate focus, resilience, and joy.   Mindfulness is one of those essential practices.

So what is mindfulness exactly?

At a fundamental level, mindfulness is about paying attention.   So simple to understand, yet so challenging to actually do.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the University of Massachusetts’s Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society  defines mindfulness as specific practices that help us all:

  • Pay attention
  • To the present moment
  • On purpose
  • Without judgment

Multiple studies demonstrate benefits of mindfulness that align with the challenges social impact leaders regularly face.  Through consciously paying attention to the present moment, leaders can:

  • Reduce the negative impact of stress
  • Cultivate increased focus, authenticity, and intentionality
  • Create the mental space needed for innovation and creatively
  • Improve strategy
  • Find more joy

Recognizing these benefits, renowned social impact leadership development organizations such as Ashoka, The Skoll Foundation, and others are is investing The Well Being Project to help explore and meet the inner needs of social entrepreneurs.

Lest you think this is some “woo-woo” approach meant only for “bleeding hearts” out to save the world, Fortune 500 companies throughout the country – such as Google, Target, and General Mills –  are increasingly integrating mindfulness practices into their work and seeing its benefits.

As Janice Marturano, former deputy general counsel at General Mills and founder of The Institute for Mindful Leadership, says in Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership: “When the mind is trained to be fully attentive, even in the midst of chaos, we have the space to more wise and conscious choices.”

Even more to the point, Todd Piece, Salesforce’s Executive Vice President of Operations and Mobility calls mindfulness “a super skill that brings out the best in people.”

As the academic year comes to an end here at CASE, we’ve taken advantage of this naturally reflective season in our work to integrate mindfulness practices into student and staff programming.  Recently we hosted an end-of-year Social Impact Pit Stop to create space for first-year MBA students to reflect on their social impact journey thus far and intentionally prepare for their summer internships through writing themselves Purposeful Pause Post Cards they’ll be receiving in just a few weeks.  And just last week, our staff started our team meeting with a mindfulness breathing exercise and reflection practice to help us individually and collectively  connect more deeply what brings us satisfaction in our work and begin to integrate lessons from the past year into our future planning.

Intrigued and want to learn more?   Here are few resources to get you started: